U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Kenya, July 1996
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of East African Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Kenya
Area: 582,646 sq. km. (224,960 sq mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital-Nairobi (pop. 1.4 million in 1996). Other cities--
Mombasa (480,000), Kisumu (200,000), Nakuru (165,000).
Terrain: Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a
series of mountain ridges and plateaus which stand above 3,000 meters
(9,000 ft.) in the center of the country. The Rift Valley bisects the
country above Nairobi opening up to arid plain in the north. Mountain
plains cover the south before descending to the shores of Lake Victoria
in the west.
Climate: Varies from the tropical south, west, and central regions to
arid and semi-arid wasteland in the north and the northeast.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Kenyan(s).
Population (1995 est.): 28 million.
Annual growth$rate (1995 est.): 2.7 percent.
Ethnic groups: African--Kikuyu 21 percent, Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13
percent, Kalenjin 11 percent, Kamba 11 percent, Kisii 6 percent, Meru
5 percent. Non-African--Asian, European, Arab 1 percent.
Religions: indigenous beliefs 24 percent, Protestant 40 percent, Roman
Catholic 30 percent, Muslim 6 percent.
Languages: English, Swahili, over 40 local ethnic languages.
Education: Years compulsory--none, but first 8 yrs. of primary school
are provided through cost sharing between government and parents.
Attendance--83 percent for primary grades. Literacy (in English)--59
Health: Infant mortality rate--70/1,000. Life expectancy--59 yrs.
Work force (1.6 million wage earners): Public sector--44 percent.
Private sector--56 percent. 2.2 million informal sector workers. Formal
sector breakdown: Services--47 percent; Industry and commerce--34
percent; Agriculture--19 percent.
Independence: December 12, 1963.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state, head of government,
commander-in-chief of armed forces). Legislative--unicameral
National Assembly (parliament). Judicial-- Court of Appeal, High
Court, various lower courts. Administrative subdivisions: 60 districts,
joined to form 7 rural provinces. Nairobi area has special status.
Political parties: eleven registered political parties. Ruling party:
African National Union. Suffrage: universal at 18.
Flag: black, red, and green horizontal bands from top to bottom
separated by narrow white stripes. a warrior's shield and crossed spears
are centered on flag.
GDP (1995): U.S.$8.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1995): 4.9 percent.
Per capita income: U.S.$290.
Natural resources: wildlife, land.
Agriculture: Products--tea, coffee, sugar cane, horticultural products,
corn, wheat, rice, sisal, pineapples, pyrethrum, dairy products, meat
and meat products, hides, skins. Arable land--5 percent.
Industry: Types--petroleum product, grain and sugar milling, cement,
beer, soft drinks, textiles, paper and light manufacturing.
Trade: Exports (1995)--U.S.$1.6 billion: tea, coffee, horticultural
products, petroleum products, cement, pyrethrum, soda ash, sisal, hides
and skins, fluorspar. Major markets--Uganda, Tanzania, United
Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Egypt, South
Africa, United States. Imports (1995)--U.S.$2.7 billion: machinery,
vehicles, crude petroleum, iron and steel, resins and plastic materials,
refined petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products,
fertilizers, wheat. Major suppliers--U.K., Japan, South Africa,
Germany, United Arab Emirates, Italy, India, France, United States,
Market exchange rate: 57 Kenya shillings (Ksh)=U.S.$1. (May 1995).
Kenya's population is diverse. Traditional pastoralists, Arab Muslims,
and cosmopolitan residents of Nairobi contribute to the culture. The
standard of living in major cities ranks high in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Most city workers retain links with their rural, extended families and
leave the city periodically to help work on the family farm. About 75
percent of the work force is engaged in agriculture, mainly as
subsistence farmers. The urban sector employs about 1.4 million
The national motto of Kenya is harambee, meaning "pull together." In
that spirit, volunteers in hundreds of communities build schools,
clinics, and other facilities each year and collect funds to send
The four state universities enroll about 20,000 students, representing
only 40 percent of the Kenyan students who qualify for admission.
Fossils found in East Africa suggest that proto-humans roamed the area
more than 20 million years ago. Recent finds near Kenya's Lake
Turkana indicate that the Homo genus of humans lived in the area 2.6
million years ago.
Cushitic-speaking people, who occupied the area from about 1000 BC,
received Arab traders by the first century AD. Kenya's proximity to the
Arabian Peninsula invited colonization, and Arab and Persian
settlements were founded along the coast by the eighth century AD. By
then, Bantu and Nilotic peoples had moved into the area.
The Swahili language, a mixture of Bantu and Arabic, developed as a
lingua franca for trade between the different peoples. Arab dominance
was eclipsed by the arrival in 1498 of the Portuguese, who gave way in
turn to Islamic control under the Imam of Oman in the 1600s. Britain
established its influence in the 19th century.
The colonial history of Kenya dates from the Berlin Conference of
1885, when the European powers first partitioned East Africa into
spheres of influence. In 1895, the British Government established the
East African Protectorate and, soon after, opened the fertile highlands
to white settlers. The settlers were allowed a voice in government even
before it was officially made a British colony in 1920, but Africans
were prohibited from direct political participation until 1944.
From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of
emergency arising from the "Mau Mau" rebellion against British
colonial rule. During this period, African participation in the
political process increased rapidly. The first direct elections for
Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Kenya became
independent on December 12, 1963, and the next year joined the
Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the predominant Kikuyu tribe
and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya's
first president. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union
(KADU), representing a coalition of small tribes that had feared
dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself voluntarily in 1964 and
A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's
Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a
former vice president and Luo elder. The KPU was banned and its
leader detained after political unrest related to Kenyatta's visit to
Nyanza province. No new opposition parties were formed after 1969,
and KANU became the sole and ruling political party. At Kenyatta's
death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi became interim
president. On October 14, Moi became president in his own right after
he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee.
In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making
Kenya a de jure one-party state, and parliamentary elections were held
in September 1983. The 1988 elections reinforced the one-party
system. In December 1991, parliament repealed the one-party section
of the constitution, allowing other parties to register. By early 1992,
several new parties had been formed, and multiparty elections were
held in December 1992. President Moi was reelected for another five-
year term. Opposition party members won about 45 percent of the
parliamentary seats; President Moi's KANU party maintains a
The unicameral assembly consists of 188 members elected to a term of
up to five years, plus 12 members appointed by the president. The
president appoints the vice president and cabinet members from among
those elected to the assembly. The attorney general and the speaker are
ex officio members of the National Assembly.
The judiciary is headed by a High Court, consisting of a chief justice
and at least 30 High Court judges and judges of Kenya's Court of
Appeal (no associate judges), all appointed by the president.
Local administration is divided among 60 rural districts, each headed
by a presidentially appointed commissioner. The districts are joined to
form seven rural provinces. The Nairobi area has special status and is
not included in any district or province. The government supervises
administration of districts and provinces.
Principal Government Officials
President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--Daniel
Toroitich arap Moi
Vice President--Prof. George Saitoti
Minister Foreign Affairs--Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka
Ambassador to the United States--Benjamin Kipkorir
Ambassador to the United Nations--Njuguna Moses Mahugu
Kenya maintains an embassy in the United States at 2249 R Street NW,
Washington, DC 20008 (Tel. 202-387-6101).
Since independence, Kenya has maintained remarkable stability despite
changes in its political system and crises in neighboring countries.
Citizens have enjoyed an unprecedented degree of freedom with the re-
emergence of multiparty democracy. The government, however,
continues to invoke sedition laws inherited from the colonial era to
limit free speech and assembly. A number of opposition members of
parliament have been arrested since the 1992 election for violating
these laws. Future political debate is likely to focus on the relevance
such laws and the Kenyan constitution as amended to the multiparty
After independence, Kenya promoted rapid economic growth through
public investment, encouragement of smallholder agricultural
production, and incentives for private (often foreign) industrial
investment. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual average
of 6.6 percent from 1963 to 1973. Agricultural production grew by 4.7
percent annually during the same period, stimulated by redistributing
estates, diffusing new crop strains, and opening new areas to
Between 1974 and 1990, Kenya's economic performance declined.
Inappropriate agricultural policies, inadequate credit and poor
international terms of trade contributed to the decline in agriculture.
Kenya's inward looking policy of import substitution and rising oil
prices made Kenya's manufacturing sector uncompetitive. Lack of
export incentives, tight import controls and foreign exchange controls
worsened the domestic environment for investment.
From 1991 to 1993, Kenya had its worst economic performance since
1963. Growth in GDP stagnated while agricultural production
contracted at an annual rate of 3.9 percent. Inflation reached a record
100 percent in August 1993 while the government's budget deficit was
over 10 percent of GDP. As a result of the problems, bilateral and
multilateral donors suspended program aid to Kenya in 1991.
In 1993, the government of Kenya began a major program of economic
reform and liberalization. A new minister of finance and a new
governor of the central bank began to implement a series of economic
measures with the assistance of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF). As part of this program, the government
eliminated price controls and import licensing, removed foreign
exchange controls, privatized a range of publicly--owned companies,
reduced the number of civil servants, and introduced conservative
fiscal and monetary policies. In 1995, Kenya's real GDP growth rate
was 4.9 percent compared to 3.0 percent in 1994 and 0.2 percent in
1993. By the end of 1995, inflation was down to 2 percent, and the
budget deficit was under 2 percent of GDP.
In March 1996, donors expressed satisfaction with Kenya's economic
progress. At a meeting of the Donor Consultative Group on Kenya in
Paris, bilateral and multilateral donors pledged U.S.$730 million in
assistance to Kenya. As part of this pledge, the World Bank has made a
U.S.$90 million structural adjustment credit available to Kenya and the
International Monetary Fund has provided a U.S.$218 million
enhanced structural adjustment facility. The World Bank is also
providing loans for a range of specific projects, including the
rehabilitation of the critical Mombasa-Nairobi road.
Although Kenya has made substantial economic progress, further
reforms are necessary if it is to increase its GDP growth rate.
Government plans for additional reforms include further privatization
of public companies, downsizing of government, and reductions in
tariffs. Kenya's infrastructure is in urgent need of rehabilitation,
although the government has recently begun to take some steps to
address the problem. Corruption remains a major problem.
Nairobi continues to be the primary hub of East Africa with the
region's best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure,
and trained personnel. A wide range of foreign firms maintain regional
branch or representative offices in the city. In March 1996, the
presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda reestablished the East
African Cooperation (EAC). The EAC's objectives include
harmonizing tariffs and customs regimes, free movement of people,
and improving regional infrastructures.
Despite internal tensions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenya has maintained
good relations with its northern neighbors. Recent relations with
Uganda and Tanzania have improved as the three countries work for
mutual economic benefit. The lack of a cohesive government in
Somalia prevents normal contact with that country, although Kenya
serves as the major host for refugees from that conflict.
Kenya maintains a moderate profile in Third World politics. Kenya's
relations with Western countries are generally friendly, although
current political and economic instabilities are often blamed on
The United States and Kenya have enjoyed cordial relations since
Kenya's independence. More than 6,000 U.S. citizens live in Kenya,
and about 35,000 Americans visit Kenya annually. About two-thirds of
the resident Americans are missionaries and their families. U.S.
business investment is estimated to be more than U.S.$285 million,
primarily in commerce, light manufacturing, and the tourism industry.
U.S. assistance to Kenya promotes broad-based economic development
as the basis for continued progress in political, social, and related
areas of national life. U.S. aid strategy is designed to achieve three
major objectives: reduced population growth; increased agricultural
productivity; and increased role of private enterprise in the economy.
It focuses on small farmers and the rural landless, a group that
comprises more than four- fifths of Kenya's poorest citizens and
accounts for about one-quarter of the population. The U.S. Peace Corps
has more than 165 volunteers in Kenya.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Timberlake Foster
USAID Mission Director--George Jones
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Marilyn Hulbert
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is located at Haile Selassie and Moi
Avenues, Nairobi, PO Box 30137 (Tel. 334141; Fax 340838).
Climate and clothing: Light- and medium-weight clothing is worn most
of the year. Sweaters and light raincoats are needed during the rainy
Customs: U.S. citizens entering Kenya need a passport and visa.
Health: No special precautions are required in Nairobi, and adequate
hospital and outpatient treatment is available in the city. Outside the
capital, avoid tapwater and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Anti-
malarial tablets and yellow fever, polio, typhoid, and hepatitis
immunizations are recommended for travelers outside the capital.
Transportation: Many international airlines serve Nairobi. Most major
towns are linked by Kenya Airways flights, good passenger train
services, and intercity bus services. Places of special tourist interest
served by local light-aircraft companies. Taxis are abundant in Nairobi.
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